Texas through 25 years.
Today, Texas released their newest singles collection Texas 25 in the United Kingdom―the American release follows tomorrow. The commemorative set will attempt to chart the trajectory of this Scottish band whose name and (initial) sound cues came from the 1984 film ‘Paris, Texas’. The movie was scored by American rocker Ry Cooder.
Texas’ line-ups have shifted through the years, but three mainstays have stood at Texas’ center: guitarists Johnny McElhone and Ally McErlaine; vocalist / guitarist Sharleen Spiteri.
Over McElhone/McErlaine’s works, Spiteri’s incomparable range called to mind Dusty Springfield or Chrissie Hynde. Spiteri, despite those influences, brought her own unmistakable presence to Texas, helping them to sell over 35 million records globally.
Across 25 years, Texas lived up to the spaciousness likened to their nom de guerre; sadly it seems that Texas 25 falls shorts of encapsulating their musical diversity. Following the same erroneous pattern their first best-of from 2000 began, Texas abbreviates their legacy again. Several key singles are missing throughout the new set and classics accounted for have been retouched. Though the eyebrow raising “deluxe edition” will feature the hits in their original forms.
Longtime fans and newcomers are denied a chance to experience one of the most versatile popular music vehicles as they evolved. An attempt to gauge the creative pulse of Texas’ eight studio albums through this retrospective will remedy the oversight made by the band themselves.
Southside (Mercury) / 1989
Singles: “I Don’t Want a Lover,” “Thrill Has Gone,” “Everyday Now,” “Prayer For You”
Synopsis: The debut album that caused a sensation in the United Kingdom upon its release, Southside captured a young Texas, but one far from underdeveloped. It was here that Spiteri’s voice soared over robust guitar and drumming structures that called to mind American rock music. Underneath that ambitious sound arc was a soulful underpinning that bubbled to the surface. Noticeably on “Faith” there was a lush lyrical interpolation of Al Green’s “Tired of Being Alone”. Texas later gave the R&B chestnut a loving cover on the U.S. pressing of their junior effort, Ricks Road (1993).
Even among the cavernous classic rock of “I Don’t Want a Lover,” Texas’ blue-eyed soul twinkled. However, that flower still had a ways to go before it would take root and bloom.
Watch / Listen: “I Don’t Want a Lover”
Mothers Heaven (Mercury) / 1991
Singles: “Why Believe in You,” “In My Heart,” “Alone With You,” “Mothers Heaven”
Synopsis: Texas enjoying their roots rock was mistaken as laziness by some; Mothers Heaven was actually more progressive than Southside. A deeper listen demonstrated Texas’ pop instincts present in the more insistent melodies of “Dream Hotel” and the titular piece. The record buying public that embraced their brand two years preceding abandoned this recording inexplicably. As such, Texas has disavowed this recording. Output from this LP had been ignored for both their 2000 and 2015 retrospectives―an exception issued to their live effort, The BBC Sessions (2007) which contained some Mothers Heaven content. Texas’ sophomore project has kept a mysterious air.
If the listener has a preference for Texas during its earlier incarnation, Mothers Heaven is not to be ignored.
Watch / Listen: “Why Believe in You”
Ricks Road (Mercury) / 1993
Singles: “So Called Friend,” “You Owe It All to Me,” “So In Love With You”
Synopsis: The final installment of the Texas traditional rock trilogy, Ricks Road dialed back on melody in favor of harder band instrumentation. It was an odd decision as Texas was in fantastic form already on their two previous efforts. Clearly the commercial cold of Mothers Heaven had shaken them―the chill only lifted slightly in Britain (their largest market) with Ricks Road. Texas did continue to gain traction on American college radio. Further U.S. exposure was gained when comedienne Ellen DeGeneres used “So Called Friend” as the theme song to her hit sitcom series ‘Ellen’ from its third season onward.
Texas had perfected their rock-and-roll and Ricks Road played like a closing chapter to an era in Texas’ discography. Coming from a place of affection rather than just imitation, Texas had proven their mettle as one of the better bands to emerge at the end of one decade and were ready to redefine their sound in a new one.
Watch / Listen: “So Called Friend”
White on Blonde
White on Blonde (Mercury) / 1997
Singles: “Say What You Want,” “Halo,” “Black Eyed Boy,” “Put Your Arms Around Me,” “Insane”
Synopsis: Here was the album that turned it all around and made Sharleen Spiteri the glamorous face of Texas overnight. Spinning off four U.K. Top 10 hits and moving 3.6 million units in England alone, White on Blonde’s alternative rock and soul put Texas at the axis of contemporary music in the U.K. and Europe. Spiteri’s voice wore a sensually darker guise than before on entries like “Insane” and “Good Advice”―this was far from a bad thing. Dramatic string arrangements zinged, guitars added aural pepper when needed and strong songwriting made it sing out to listeners.
Texas had finally managed to be a commercial, creative and critical darlings simultaneously. White on Blonde also announced that Texas were pop auteurs and their next album made this posh hypothesis fact.
Watch / Listen: “Black Eyed Boy”
The Hush (Mercury) / 1999
Singles: “In Our Lifetime,” “Summer Son,” “When We Are Together”
Synopsis: One of the finest blue-eyed soul records ever crafted, The Hush pitched itself between sweet and salty aesthetics. This kept fans and critics wondering how Texas pulled off their second sonic makeover? If there was any doubt with White on Blonde, The Hush’s material was an irrefutable shift from blues-rock to Motown. There was still a little sting present as heard on the bruising “Summer Son,” but Spiteri alternated from ripened falsetto (“Tell Me the Answer”) to expressive tones that showed her voice to be a bottomless well of hues (“Day After Day”).
Texas closed the 1990’s on a high with the triumph of The Hush. Though the group had begun to orbit the trio of McElhone / McErlaine / Spiteri, they retained only the best musicians.
Watch / Listen: “Summer Son”
Careful What You Wish For
Careful What You Wish For (Mercury) / 2003
Singles: “Carnival Girl,” “I’ll See It Through”
Synopsis: Often cited as “that difficult punk-pop record,” Careful What You Wish For sought to keep the polish from Texas’ two past LPs―but with something a little edgier. Those that yearned for the open fields of Texas’ earlier albums need not press play here; they were in firm command of their pop changeability on this LP. The two-pronged opener “Telephone X” and “Broken” eyed an even sexier Texas than before; yet, as the album spun―despite its energy―Careful lacked compelling songs.
It didn’t help that in the interim between The Hush and Careful, the U.K. and European pop scenes had gone through many changes. Only two singles manifested, “Carnival Girl” became the minor hit. As far as transitional records went, Careful What You Wish For was exceptional.
Watch / Listen: “I’ll See It Through”
Red Book (Mercury) / 2005
Singles: “Getaway,” “Can’t Resist,” “Sleep”
Synopsis: If Careful What You Wish For was “too hard,” Red Book stood as a pretty pastel solvent to that record. The band sound had been considerably reduced, though Texas’ collaborative writing as a unit remained. After an odd preface meant to recall White on Blonde’s introduction “0.34,” “Getaway” acted as a paean to synth-pop as pioneered by Orchestral Manouevres in the Dark―think Junk Culture (1984) versus Dazzle Ships (1983). Elsewhere, Texas clumsily acclimatized to dance-pop (“Can’t Resist,” “Get Down Tonight”) with lackluster results.
The album was far from a disaster. If anything Red Book was another stylishly coiffed transitional offering, but the group had exhausted themselves. An eight year break ensued as the band pursued various paths. Spiteri recorded her inevitable solo debut Melody (Mercury, 2008) and its equally pleasing follow-up, The Movie Songbook (Mercury, 2010) in that interval.
Watch / Listen: “Getaway”
The Conversation (PIAS) / 2013
Singles: “The Conversation,” “Detroit City,” “Dry Your Eyes”
Synopsis: After almost a decade away, Texas reformed and released their best record to date. The Conversation managed to tie The Hush by recharging their pop while gingerly peering back to the organic feel of their first three records. The album, a succinct package of tunes, did not overstay its welcome on the denim twist of the title song to the country-pop waltz of “If This Isn’t Real”. The band was present audibly throughout the course of The Conversation; Spiteri delivered the goods, her voice timeless as ever.
Sadly, The Conversation did not return Texas to the summit of the charts, but it did make a fair impact. More importantly, fans and critics resounded with praise for its rejuvenated spirit.
Watch / Listen: “Dry Your Eyes”
[Editor’s Note: All of Texas’ albums are in print digitally and physically; availability spans domestic and import releases. Texas 25 available now. For current information on Texas, visit their official website.-QH]